Hello, everyone. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve done this. Don’t worry, I’ve been grumpy the last several weeks without you and without Ohio State football. Grump never sleeps.
The Buckeyes went to the desert last night to face one of their few remaining bogeymen. They came close and darn near did it despite having a lot of things going against them. There were touchdowns inexplicably taken off the board, an elite defender thrown out of the game on what should have been a key sack to end a possession, and gave Clemson a free possession by roughing the punter on what really could have (should have?) been a 5-yard running-into-the-kicker call.
It was a great season and should still be ongoing. I’m going to be grumpy about this one for a long time. Here are some of the reasons why.
Settling for Three
Ohio State sprinted down the field on its first drive but an erroneous initial call stopped the Buckeyes’ momentum, even though the replay corrected Garrett Wilson’s catch inside the 10-yard line. From there, Ohio State passed on two of three plays from the 5-yard line. J.K. Dobbins slipped on his cut on second down, which may have gotten him in or at least close to the goal line. On third down, Clemson brought pressure and Justin Fields was forced to scramble. Fields missed an open K.J. Hill in the end zone, as the OSU receiver had fallen down and his defender left him when the quarterback rolled left. Fields threw incomplete to Chris Olave in the corner but had he seen Hill it was an easy six points. Instead, Ohio State brought a field goal to a touchdown fight. And it turned out not to be the only time.
Footballs are Tuf to Catch
Tuf Borland missed an opportunity when he got his hands to a Trevor Lawrence pass in the first quarter, as the linebacker was unable to haul it in. It could have set Ohio State up nicely but at least Clemson was kind enough to miss the field goal to finish the drive.
Hands on Facemasks
One of the things Clemson’s offensive line did well all night was to somehow not get called for jamming Ohio State defenders’ facemasks into the sky. That’s a penalty, and not even a particularly difficult one to see, but the Tigers got away with it repeatedly. Jashon Cornell received an uncalled hands-to-the-face on a long third-and-10 completion when Josh Proctor busted coverage to extend one Clemson drive. Chase Young was the victim on the same play that saw Shaun Wade exit the game (more on that below). Letting holding go is one thing — and it’s a thing we’ve seen all year, with only four offensive holding calls against OSU opponents entering the Fiesta Bowl — but hands to the face is even more obvious and the SEC officiating crew seemed fine with letting Clemson do it. It’s not sour grapes if it’s true. Here’s just one example:
— Joe Burrow Fan Account (@Edge11W) December 29, 2019
The Ball Moved
J.K. Dobbins appeared to catch a touchdown pass but on further review, the ball moved when he came down to the turf and Ohio State had to settle for another field goal. If that’s a running play, it’s a touchdown when he breaks the plane. But since it’s a pass, which was in his hands, it isn’t a touchdown when he breaks the plane. In that instance, he has to do a lot more. The rule is stupid and always has been. However, it wouldn’t have happened if Fields could have just put a little more air under the ball. That was another missed opportunity.
Red Zone Play Calling
Ohio State continuously made odd choices in the red zone, where passing lanes are a bit more congested. The Buckeyes decided to eschew what had been a successful running game and throw it more. The Buckeyes threw four passes against just two rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line in the first half.
Ryan Day made absolutely the perfect play call on a screen pass that caught Clemson completely unprepared. Dobbins had blockers out front and only one Tiger, who was in the process of being blocked by the tight end. He could have walked into the end zone. But Dobbins took his eyes off the ball to look down the field and he dropped a sure touchdown. For the third time, Ohio State had to bring a field goal to a touchdown fight.
Shaun Wade’s ejection for targeting was officiating malpractice, in my opinion. Wade came free on a blitz and had his arms out, going low to sack Lawrence, who is much taller and heavier. He did lean forward but was a split second from hitting the quarterback in the midsection. At the last second, Lawrence ducked his head, creating helmet-to-helmet contact that would otherwise not have happened. Instead of punting on fourth-and-long, Clemson got a free first down, Ohio State lost one of its very best (and most important) defenders for the game. The Tigers then got a pass interference call on Wade’s replacement to help them down the field. Clemson scored its first touchdown to cap a drive that should have ended on the other side of the field and it completely changed the tone of the game.
This targeting rule does not exist to eliminate dangerous collisions. It’s football. You will never eliminate dangerous collisions. The rule exists, rather, to deter dangerous and dirty hits. That hit wouldn’t have been dangerous or dirty without the offensive player changing the impact point when it was too late to do anything about it. That’s a textbook facemask in the chest if Lawrence didn’t duck into it. There was no launch. It was a huge, game-changing play.
Foot Off the Gas
Ohio State jumped out on top early in the game largely by being the aggressor. In the late stages of the second quarter, the Buckeyes got a bit more conservative and that gave Clemson a chance to cut into the lead even more before the break. After hitting quick passes throughout the first half, it might have been worth a chance at a double move after the Tigers had scored to try to seize momentum back. Instead, the Buckeyes tried more underneath stuff and a run play and gave the ball back.
The Big Play
Ohio State has fed all year on its ability to prevent big plays, so a routine quarterback draw should not have given the Tigers all the momentum entering the half. But it did. Josh Proctor became yet another victim of an awful playing surface, slipping as the last defender, allowing Lawrence to take it to the house. Ohio State went conservative again on its next possession even though Clemson was getting the ball back to start the third quarter. There wasn’t a ton of time left, but with Fields and the OSU receiving corps, it would have been nice to have at least tried to get a late field goal to calm things down.
Roughing the Punter
The Buckeyes were just about to get the ball back near midfield after the defense got yet another stop. Ohio State came after the punt but got there a second late. I will let other people get mad about going after the punt in that situation, but if the Buckeyes get it, no one complains. The job of the special teams coach is to look for weaknesses the team can exploit and then call it if they get the look they want during the game. But you have to execute. Players don’t intend to rough the kicker, jump offside, drop a pass, false start, etc. They’re human. The punter was off the ground when Cam Brown made contact. He didn’t hit the plant leg or even really get much of the kicking leg. It could very easily have been just a 5-yard penalty but they called it a personal foul and Clemson scored on another drive that should have been over. Whether it was roughing or running into, it was dumb, and it affected the game. Holy cow, I agree with a referee.
Roughing vs running is highly subjective but I believe that should have been it running and a 5-yard foul. The rule requires the kicker be endangered for roughing. Here, he just ran into the kicker and didn’t drive through and simply knocked him down.
— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) December 29, 2019
Overturning the Scoop and Score
Jeff Okudah made a huge play to strip the ball after a catch (and it was a catch, you’ll never convince me otherwise). Jordan Fuller picked up the ball and scored. Then the play was overturned after video review, which is only supposed to overturn clear and obvious errors. The on-field official who threw the beanbag had a great view of the play. It was a bullshit call. Garbage. That’s all I have to say about it. And it’s the second time Fuller has lost a touchdown this season on either a bad or ticky-tack call. You never know how a game will play out, but losing seven points turned on that overturned call turned out to be kind of important. Here’s me once again being on the same page as an actual person who officiates football games for a living:
This is a great angle. There is absolutely no way replay should have reversed. “Indisputable video evidence” is simply not there. https://t.co/q77FD1IYJ7
— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) December 29, 2019
Ohio State could have completely exorcised the ghosts of past Clemson games when Drue Chrisman dropped a late punt deep into Clemson territory. The ball hit a Tiger and was loose on the field for a second. Unfortunately, no one from Ohio State was close enough to fall on it to seal the game. It would have been fantastic karmic retribution from Philly Brown’s muff in a previous loss to Clemson, which led to the Tigers rallying to win. Instead, after falling on their own muff, Clemson came right down the field and scored a go-ahead touchdown. You can criticize the call to not go for it on fourth-and-4, but given the field position and the fact Clemson only needed a field goal, I don’t blame Ryan Day for punting and Chrisman did a great job (and it nearly ended up as a turnover). The OSU defense was tough all night but, for whatever reason, it wasn’t on the next possession.
Maybe the most infuriating thing about the game was the end — specifically the final two drives. Ohio State’s defense had been stout against a great offense all night but Clemson went through them like a hot knife through butter. That would have been fine if Ohio State answered and it almost did. The Buckeyes used short passes to Dobbins to work their way down the field. But with Dobbins wide open underneath, Fields saw Chris Olave flash deep against one-on-one coverage. A simple miscommunication between Fields and Olave — the receiver said after the game he thought his quarterback was scrambling so he broke off the route — resulted in an interception that ended Ohio State’s championship hopes. Of course, all of that was made worse by the Fuller touchdown overturn earlier in the game, because Clemson’s last score should only have cut into the lead, not put the Tigers ahead.
That’s it. We’re done with the 2019 OSU football season and it’s a shame because this team was good enough to hang with LSU and possibly win the national championship. I believe Ohio State was the better team in the Fiesta Bowl despite all the things the Buckeyes did wrong. Some crucial calls certainly hurt, as did settling for three on multiple occasions, but you can’t lose sight of the fact that Fields was playing on a bad knee and Dobbins was also down to one peg in the second half after an ankle injury. Wade’s ejection absolutely affected the defense and helped swing the game seven points in Clemson’s favor.
We’ve seen the last of some very good Ohio State players and we’ll miss them. Others will rise to take their place. But who knows if the stars will align the way they did throughout 2019? It’ll be a long wait to find out. And that makes me grumpiest of all.